Thursday, Aug 18

Ford Performance NASCAR: Aric Almirola Media Availability (New Hampshire Motor Speedway)

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang -- YOU RAN SO WELL HERE LAST YEAR AFTER A TOUGH YEAR FOR SHR, WHAT WAS IT ABOUT THIS TRACK THAT BROUGHT YOU AND THE 10 TEAM TO LIFE? ARE THE EXPECTATIONS HIGH THIS YEAR OR IS IT A TOTAL RESET? “Last year I felt like a lot of our struggles was mostly the intermediate race tracks and we race so much of them that it kind of stands out and makes us look bad more routinely because we run so many intermediate race tracks. I felt like we were off on aero and just missing some things. But I felt like our short track program last year was good. We were a top-10 car at Richmond and a top-10 car at Martinsville. We came to Loudon and our car was perfect. We made very minimal adjustments throughout the entire race. We started deep in the field, based on the way that they did the lineups last year with the metrics. We were so far down in points. I think we started 20-something, 24th or 26th or something like that. We drove through the field and had a great day on pit road and our car was good and I did a good job on restarts. It was one of those days where everything goes right and we steadily worked our way through the field and got into the top-five by midway through stage 2 and then raced with the leaders from there and got the lead. Then we led a lot of laps to the finish and just felt like everything went perfectly. When you have days like that, it is kind of easy to go to victory lane. It is the days you have to overcome adversity and challenges and the adversity that we fount most of last year being down on speed at all the intermediate race tracks. So coming to Loudon, yeah, it was a surprise for most people but it wasn’t really a surprise for us. We felt like if we kept massaging on our short track package that we would have cars that we needed to go challenge for wins.”

 

YOU HAVE RUN WELL ON MOST OF THE FLAT TRACKS THIS YEAR. DO YOU EXPECT THAT TO CONTINUE THIS WEEKEND? “I hope so. Running as good as we have run at Martinsville and Gateway and then coming here and having a lot of high expectations and a lot of confidence coming off the win last year. Loudon has always been a good track for me. I think statistically it is probably my best track. You guys could probably tell me, I don't dive into all that stuff. But thinking off the top of my head it is a track that I always feel I will run good and have a shot to win if the car does what I need it to do. I think back all the way to the very first time I ever got in a Cup car here. I got in Jimmie Johnson’s car on Saturday morning for practice and went out and made a 20-lap run and went a little faster than he did. That was a huge confidence boost for me. Honestly, that practice really changed the course of my career. After that practice, I went back over to the truck garage and ran really well in the truck race that day. The very next weekend I had a conversation with Dale Jr. about driving his Busch car the following year. Yeah, that practice and then getting that sort of confidence and having Chad Knaus believe in me and everybody at HMS and Dale Jr. asking me to come drive his car, it all started right here with that Saturday morning practice at Loudon driving the 48 car. This place has always been kind of a special place to me.”

 

WHEN YOU LOOK BACK TO THE VICTORY LAST YEAR, HOW DO YOU FEEL YOUR CAREER HAS CHANGED FROM THAT VICTORY? “I don't think it is really any different. My career is something I am very proud of and it has been up and down for sure but winning at this level is so hard. It is so competitive. It is the best stock car drivers in the world. To get all the way to this level and to win at this level is very, very difficult. So to do it and to do it at a drivers-type race track, not to say my other wins weren’t, but to do it at Daytona and Talladega was nice but those places take a different style of driving. To do it here kind of cemented for me at least to where I feel like I got it done on a race track to where I needed to.”

 

WERE YOU SURPRISED THEY DIDN’T PUT ANY RESIN DOWN? “I was surprised they didn’t just because they typically have. Last year they didn’t because we had a tremendous amount of rain leading up to the race weekend and so there was still some grip left over in those areas where they had previously treated it. Throughout the race last year I feel like it was starting to wear off and go away. For them to not treat it this year, I don't know. I have no idea what to expect. I think it will probably wear out pretty quickly if there is any left, any grip left in those areas. It will probably go away really quickly.”

 

THERE IS STILL A LOT OF CHATTER ABOUT YOU POTENTIALLY RECONSIDERING YOUR RETIREMENT. HAVE YOU THOUGHT ANY MORE ABOUT THAT? “It is humbling to have people keep questioning me about it. I have given it thought but I don't have anything new to say really as of right now. I think for us and for our race team, my focus is to get through these next few weeks and try to win a race to get our way into the playoffs. I would like to do that here this weekend like we did last year. As far as anything that goes past this year, I don't have anything new to say than what I have said previously.”

 

WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT THIS PLACE THAT ALLOWS SO GUYS TO SORT OF RISE UP AND GET UNEXPECTED SUCCESS HERE? “I don't know. I always feel like coming to this race track is kind of an acquired taste, so to speak. It is very difficult and unique. You spend more time in the corners than you do on the straightaways because the corners are so wide and so sweeping. I feel like it is very much a driver's race track. It takes a certain technique and acquired taste. For more, I have always just enjoyed coming here. I have got friends that live up here and just when I come to the New England area, the fans and everybody just embrace stock car racing so much. There is just a really great atmosphere and it is a different feeling for me. Even when we pulled into the track last night. Pulling in and the Xfinity cars were on track for practice. I don't know, I get giddy when I come here. I get excited. It is a really cool race track.”

 

WHEN YOU COME HERE TO NEW HAMPSHIRE, IT IS A BIT OF A CHANGE OF SCENERY. IS THERE ANYWHERE YOU LIKE TO GO AROUND NEW ENGLAND? “No, I have some friends that live down in Hampstead and they travel up here. We have been friends for 15-plus years and they have come up there for the last 10-plus years and they camp out just outside the track. We spend a lot of time camping with them and our kids all get along and they are out there running around, playing tag, roasting marshmallows to make S’mores and stuff like that. It is a change of pace when we come up here because it isn’t all about racing and being at the track. It is a little more like you are camping with your buddies and having fun. It feels different for us when we come up here because of that.”

 

WHAT HAS PUT THAT LITTLE BIT OF DOUBT IN YOUR HEAD TO WHERE YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT MAYBE KEEPING DOING THIS IN ANY FORM? “Because I keep getting asked. Honestly, I haven’t really put much thought into it at all and am kind of just going throughout the course of the year but it keeps getting brought up. The chatter turns into real chatter, more questions are getting asked by decision-makers, not just you guys. It puts that in my head to where I should at least give it thought. As of right now, as I said, I don't have anything new to add.”

 

IS SMITHFIELD ATTACHED TO YOU? TO THE 10? “Smithfield isn’t attached to anybody. They are a company that has to make a decision as to what is best for them. They have to get a return on their investment. It doesn't matter if it is me, the race team or NASCAR. They have to go through that due diligence process on their own.”

 

BUT THEY ARE GOING TO STICK AROUND? “I don't know. That isn’t for me to say. They are an independent company and they run their operation and have to figure out what makes the most sense for them and how they can get value on their investment. We have had a lot of talks over the years. The one thing I will say is I am very proud of that relationship. It is something I have worked really hard on throughout the course of my career. It started out as just a sponsorship and then it went from sponsorship to partnership and then over the last five or six years, it has gone form partnership to a relationship. I have really deep meaningful relationships with a lot of people inside that company. I know them very personally and very well. That is something I am really proud of and something that will last way beyond me driving a race car and beyond me representing them as a company. I truly value the personal relationship I have built with many of the people inside that company. As it relates to whether or not they sponsor a race car in NASCAR, that is a decision they have to make as a business decision. That is a lot of money for them to spend to be involved in the sport. I think they have seen the value in that over the last 11 years and that is why they have continued to sponsor a race car in the sport year after year. They feel like all the people that sit in the stands and turn on the TV to watch our races, that is their customer. They believe they have the opportunity by sponsoring a race car in our sport to talk to their customer and make it a decision for them when they go to the grocery store and look in the meat aisle. There is a decision to make for that consumer for what they will pick for a product. The hope is that because they sponsor a NASCAR car that when they go through that meat aisle they will pick up a Smithfield product and put it in their grocery cart. So far, they have all the metrics and information to prove that to be true.”

 

IS YOUR MINDSET NOW, IN TERMS OF NEXT YEAR, TO MAYBE DO SOME RACING WHERE YOU CAN PICK AND CHOOSE AND NOT HAVE TO GO FULL-TIME RACING? “It is hard to say. I think there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of things to juggle in relation to that. That is a hard sell I have learned. Teams and the sponsor want consistency and for me, yeah, it is really hard to wrap your head around the full-out commitment of what this sport takes. I am 38 years old and have been doing this for a long time. I am not to the point where most of the other guys have retired. Most retire in their early to mid 40’s but for me, I feel like I also had kids younger than most of those guys before me did. Harvick and Jimmie (Johnson) had kids in their 30’s. I had kids in my late 20’s. I know that Alex is going to be 10 in a month and a half. Abby is going to be nine shortly after that. I have just witnessed it with friends of ours that have older kids. When they turn 16 and get car keys, all they want to do is be with their friends. They just ask mom and dad for money and what time curfew is. I just know that I have such a short window to be involved in their life in a meaningful way where they want me around. I will always be involved in their life but there is only a short time where they actually want me to be involved and I just don't want to miss that opportunity or that window. I think as I evaluate where to go from here and give it real thought, their opinion matters to me because I want it to be something to where it is a family decision. Originally I made that decision based on my family and that won’t change going forward.”

 

YOU MENTIONED ABOUT THE RESIN POTENTIALLY WEARING OFF A LOT SOONER. WITH THE SHIFTING DONE HERE, DOES THAT TAKE AWAY THE ISSUE OF THE RESIN? “Yes and no. I think Loudon is a place we have always fought for drive off the corners. You kind of struggle for rear grip. It just depends on what tire Goodyear brought, too. At Martinsville, we typically struggle for drive off and then Goodyear brought a tire that was incredibly grippy and didn’t fall off and we didn’t struggle. It is all dependent on the tire Goodyear brought that will really determine whether or not the resin is a factor. I think it is less of a factor of whether or not we shift. If the tire falls off and we lose grip throughout the run, then shifting may or may not pay off because if you downshift then you have more acceleration off the corners and it is easier to wheel spin. There are factors outside of the resin that plays a role.”

 

THIS WEEK WE SAW BRAD KESELOWSKI RUN A LATE MODEL, TYLER REDDICK RUN A PRO-STOCK, WHAT DO YOU THINK IT SAYS ABOUT RACING AS A WHOLE TO HAVE NASCAR DRIVERS GOING AND RUNNING IN OTHER SERIES’ LIKE THAT? “I think it is awesome. The coolest part about short track racing when you are growing up is turning on the TV on Sunday and watching those guys and having those aspirations to get to that point. So then to have those guys that race on Sunday in the NASCAR Cup Series come to your home track and you have the opportunity to race against them is so cool. It brings so much awareness and attention to short track racing. I think that is needed. I think the hard part about it is that it costs a lot of money. There are a lot of moving parts and the schedules are busy and there are a lot of things you have to factor in on our side to be able to go and do that kind of Saturday night short track racing. I think it is awesome that those guys carved out the time and were able to go do that. I am sure it puts more fans in the stands and puts more attention and spotlight on those races.”

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